5 Tips for Starting a Car Collection

Get up to speed fast with this expert advice.

5 Tips for Starting a Car Collection

Get up to speed fast with this expert advice.

So you’re thinking about acquiring a fleet of cars you can tool around in on the weekends? It’s an exciting prospect, but before you even dream of reaching for your checkbook, you’d be well-advised to get acquainted with the five time-tested tips below. They come from expert gearheads who tell us how to triumph when buying Triumphs and avoid being bugged out by Bugattis with shady histories.

1956 Proche Spyder

1
Find your focus

Contrary to popular belief, a good car collection isn’t about the sheer amount of vehicles you own but what floats your boat within your horde. “Predominantly, a strong collection is born out of a love of the subject matter,” says Paul Fraser of Paul Fraser Collectibles. "To graduate from car owner to car collector, you must research. Find out all about the cars you love and what makes you love them, and this will give you a good start on deciding what to buy." Maybe it’s body style, the country of origin, the manufacturer, the year the car was made. Before you even think about starting your collection in earnest, listen to your heart and decide what it is about certain cars that revs you up. And check out our picks for the 14 Sports Cars to Buy Now!

Vintage Cadillac

2
Let people know you’re in the market

This advice comes from none other than renowned collector and former Tonight Show host Jay Leno. “Take my 1941 American LaFrance fire truck,” writes Jay in Popular Mechanics. "State-of-the-art for its day, it was bought new by Warner Bros. as their studio-lot truck. In the early '50s, Warner Bros. donated it to the City of Burbank, which kept it around for decades. One day the Burbank fire chief called me and said, 'Hey, we've got this old fire truck. Do you want it?' Naturally, I said, 'Yeah, sure.' It only had 11,000 miles on it! It had never even been plated. So I became the first registered owner and got a fairly rare V12 collector firetruck — as a gift — because it wasn't worth anything to the owners.” Leno’s rep as a gearhead precedes him in a way that yours probably doesn’t, but don’t let that stop you from building relationships, asking questions and spreading your enthusiasm. You could benefit in a similar way. Get in the loop about the best car shows: Check out or picks for the 25 Hottest Cars at the New York Auto Show!

Vintage Austin Martin Vantage

3
Know where your purchase has been

If “location, location, location” is the credo for real estate, “provenance, provenance, provenance” is the motto the successful car collector lives by. It is everything. “Without a clear provenance, it's hard to tell which parts are original, how many miles the car has done, what restoration work has already been carried out, or even whether the car was stored in a damp, rust-creating marshland that has all but ruined its internal workings,” says Fraser. He adds that these are all deciding factors on the value of a car, and any vehicle that's offered without a sound provenance should set alarm bells ringing. “If it's a car you're planning to make a profit on, steer clear.”

Vintage Austin Healey 3000

4
Set aside enough money for maintenance

A common mistake that new collectors make is to underestimate the amount of money they’ll end up spending on maintenance. “Unfortunately, there's no easy formula,” says Zac Moseley, co-owner of Classic Car Club Manhattan. “You should expect that, no matter what car you're buying, if you're buying a car of interest, you're going to spend a few thousand dollars a year on stuff, no matter what.”

Classic Ford Fender

5
Figure out how hands-on you want to be

What kind of collector are you? One who takes a hands-on approach, or one who employs a network of mechanics to keep your burgeoning brood in tip-top condition? If you're the former, don’t underestimate the time you'll put into your collection; if you're the latter, don’t underestimate the cost. Your best move is to thoroughly research each vehicle’s condition before purchase so you'll know what you're getting into. Just because you can probably learn how to deal with an array of maintenance issues doesn’t mean you want to spend every weekend and evening on them. So figure out where you fall on the DIY/get-a-real-man-in spectrum and take it from there. (Maybe in one of these 10 Best Convertibles for Summer?)